Thursday, May 30, 2013

Happy to announce... Annamaria Alfieri


The last in my series featuring Historical Novels Society conference 
presenters, today’s post is an interview with mystery novelist Annamaria 
Alfieri. Her third book Blood Tango launches next month from St. 
Martin’s Press. Congratulations, Annamaria!
Her book’s description: “It is the most dramatic and tumultuous period 
in Argentina’s history. Colonel Juan Perón, who had been the most 
powerful and the most hated man in the country, has been forced out 
of power. Many people fear that his mistress, radio actress Evita Duarte, 
will use her skill at swaying the masses to restore him to office. When 
an obscure young woman is brutally murdered, police detective Roberto 
Leary concludes that the murderer mistook the girl for Evita, the intended 
target of someone out to eliminate the popular star from the political scene.”
Don’t cry for me, Annamaria….couldn’t resist that terrible joke. All right, 
let’s get to the meat of the interview, with questions prepared by the 
wonderful conference organizer Vanitha Sankaran.
Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?
Yes.  I have the enormous privilege of being a Writer in Residence at 
the New York Public Library.  I am there researching and working four 
or five days a week. My process is to draft quickly and then polish 
and polish and polish.
For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?
I try to portray the facts and the atmosphere of the time and place 
vividly and more or less accurately.  But above all I want to tell a 
really good story, so I don’t let the details of the history get in the 
way of pace and the suspense.  If I want there to be a full moon 
on a certain night, I don’t worry if the moon really was full that day.  
On the other hand, I never portray real people doing things that the
person in question would never have done.  Historical character 
assassination is unnecessary.  There are plenty of bad guys in history 
to go around.
Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?
William Shakespeare, who wrote the greatest historical fiction.  
Can you tell us about your latest publication?
Blood Tango is set in Buenos Aires in 1945, against the most 
tumultuous period in Argentine history.  It imagines the murder 
of an obscure girl who was Evita Duarte’s body double.  The 
investigator believes the girl was murdered because she was
mistaken for Evita. 

* * * *

Good luck with your launch on June 25, Annamaria, and thanks for 
participating in the blog tour.

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Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tickled to announce...Julianne Douglas!

I’ve always enjoyed popping in and out of Julianne Douglas’s well-written history blog, Writing the Renaissance. No surprise, then, that she will be moderating a panel discussion at the Historical Novels Society conference titled, “Virtual Salon: The Historical Fiction Blog.” This will definitely be a fun one to catch!

I’m hosting Julianne today with questions prepared by Vanitha Sankaran, a fantastic writer and head of HNS’s conference board. Next month is the HNS conference in St. Petersburg, Florida: readers and writers alike are invited to attend.

1. What got you first interested in historical fiction?
Biographies! As a child, I devoured the Childhood of Famous Americans series. I particularly enjoyed the stories about women: Molly Pitcher, Clara Barton, Sacagawea, Amelia Earhart, Betsey Ross. The further in the past the subject lived, the more intriguing I found her story. At the age of 12, I discovered Jean Plaidy's historical novels. Plaidy's books were my first introduction to European history and through them I discovered a new world of kings and queens and courtiers--irresistibly compelling to a romantic teenager. I began to learn French and became a hopeless Francophile. College saw me double-major in English and French. Realizing there still remained many, many books to read, I went on to earn a Ph.D in French literature, specializing in the sixteenth century. When I chose to stay home with my toddlers instead of pursuing an academic career, I began to write historical fiction set in--you guessed it--Renaissance France. I'd found the way to put all that stuff I'd learned to good use!

 2. How do you find the people and topics of your books?
My academic work provided me the topic for my first manuscript, The Measure of Silence. In 1990 I published an article on the work of Louise Labé, the first non-noble woman to publish under her own name in France. Louise was an accomplished scholar whose verse was praised by the poetic luminaries of the day. However, being a woman of the merchant class and unable to claim the protection of a noble sponsor, she was vilified as a courtesan--and worse--for daring to "bare" herself to public scrutiny through publication. Determined to tell Louise's story, but not wanting to be bound by the constraints of a fictionalized biography, I created Jollande Carlet, a woman of similar socio-economic background living in the same center of Renaissance culture, the city of Lyons. While the details of Jollande's life differ from those of Louise's and the narrative follows tangents Louise herself would never recognize, Louise's historical situation and achievements support and justify Jollande's fictional ones. The novel is a salute to the long-dead poet, whose courage and resolution laid the groundwork for women writers of today.

A different poet sparked the genesis of my current manuscript. During a graduate seminar years ago, the professor referred to a poem by François I's court poet, Clément Marot. The work was a tribute to Emperor Charles V of Spain, who paid an extended state visit to France in 1539. The poem confused me at the time because I knew next to nothing about Charles V and his relations with France.  A few years ago, while searching for a topic for a new novel, I stumbled upon a description of this elaborate visit in a history book. Research proved it to be an exciting moment of artistic and political rivalries as France prepared to woo and impress its arch-enemy. Charles V is no longer a stranger to me, nor are the Italian artists who worked to renovate the château of Fontainebleau in time for the event. Anne d'Étampes, François I's mistress of twenty years, and Catherine Clouet, daughter of the famous portraitist, are my new best friends. If someone had told me that day in class that decades later I'd be quoting Marot's poem in a novel, I would have thought her a few lines short of a sonnet!

3. Do you have a crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?
One evening last November, I attended a talk at my church. The speaker assured us that if we had a question for God and were fully prepared to accept the answer, He would provide it. Now, I'd been having some serious doubts about whether I was following the right path in life. My first manuscript, although it had secured me a first-class agent, hadn't sold; my current manuscript was taking way too long to write and the process itself had become arduous and stressful. My father's death a month earlier had shown me how short life could be; I worried I was wasting the little time I had pursuing a goal that would never amount to anything more than a selfish dream.

I prayed as I drove home, asking God outright: "Do You want me to keep on writing or do something else instead?" I pulled into the driveway and walked to the mailbox to retrieve the day's mail. Imagine my surprise when I pulled out a copy of Writer's Digest with "WRITE THAT NOVEL!" splashed across the cover! Immediately beneath it lay Historical Novels Review. I laughed out loud, tears of gratitude in my eyes. I had received my answer and it couldn't have been any clearer. (I’ve tacked that cover up on the wall above my desk to help me through the rough spots.) Let's hope I get as quick and as positive a response to the prayers I'll be sending up when my completed manuscript goes out on submission!

 * * *

Thank you, Julianne! I too loved reading biographies when I was a child, esp. the ones with orange covers: Clara Barton, Louisa May Alcott, all strong women. I loved them.

. . . . .

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Thrilled to announce...Diana Gabaldon

When I signed up to host presenters from the upcoming Historical Novels Society conference on my blog, I had no idea I’d be lucky enough to host big hitters like Diana Gabaldon (and see my last post: Anne Perry). It’s so exciting to have her here today!

I was first introduced to her work by author friend Jordan Rosenfeld, who pulled Outlander off her shelf where it lay in a long line of the series, saying, “Here you go; you’ll love this.” And of course I did. I relished every one of those six hundred pages! And was thrilled to see that, coming late to the game, there were a half-dozen books still to devour. I’ll never look at kilts the same way again.


Gabaldon’s bio from the HNS website reports that she: “is the author of the award-winning, best-selling Outlander novels, described by Salon as “the smartest historical sci-fi adventure-romance story ever written by a science Ph.D. with a background in scripting ‘Scrooge McDuck comics.” Outlander began in 1991 and has continued through several more bestselling novels, with twenty million copies in print worldwide. Diana has also written a sub-series featuring Lord John Grey. Diana emcee’d the fabulous “Late Night Sex Scene Readings” at the San Diego conference in 2011, and will be reprising this scandalous event again in St. Petersburg this year.”

(I saw those Sex Scene Readings in 2011 and they were very fun!)

Without any further ado, here are Gabaldon’s fantastic, funny answers to questions created by megamind author Vanitha Sankaran, head board member of the HNS conference. Wait, no, a little more ado: I was told I could pick and choose out of the answers, but I think they’re all wonderful and thus I include them en masse.

What got you first interested in historical fiction? 
I wasn’t any more interested in historical fiction than in any other kind; I just thought a historical novel might be the easiest thing for me to write for practice, since I was a research professor, and did know my way around a library. It seemed slightly easier to look things up than to make them up…and, I figured, if I turned out to have no imagination, I could steal things from the historical record.

How do you find the people and topics of your books?
They just sort of show up. I think it’s probably better if I don’t try to figure out where they’re coming from.

Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process? 
What, like the Palmer Method? (g) I imagine everyone’s got some routines that are specific to them, but on the whole, both writing and research are pretty organic. Personally, I do the writing and the research concurrently, because I find they feed off and reinforce each other. I have a rough sort of work schedule, but it’s flexible. I mostly write late at night, between midnight and 4 a.m.—much less intrusion and psychic noise.

For you, what is the line between fiction and fact? 
Er…are you implying that there are people who don’t know the difference? (g) Fiction is stuff I make up, and facts are…you know…facts. (Though I notice with interest that one source gives two definitions of “fact”: 1. A thing that is indisputably the case. 
1. 2. Information used as evidence or as part of a report or news article. 
I think that’s an interesting distinction, don’t you?)


Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you'd like to share? 
Well, I have had no fewer than three young ladies come up to me at book-signings, turn around and lower their pants enough for me to see that they had “Da mi basia mille” (“Give me a thousand kisses.” It’s a quote from Catullus, used in one of my books) tattooed on their rumpuses. As my husband remarked, “It’s not everybody who can say, “Kiss my ass” in classical Latin.” 

Where do you feel historical fiction is headed as a genre? 
Frankly, I don’t worry about such things. 

Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read? 
The eighteenth century is one of my favorites, because it’s sufficiently near to our time that there’s a great deal of primary source material still available, and it’s reasonably accessible (in terms both of language and printing)—and at the same time, it was a huge period of intellectual, scientific and political upheaval and ferment. As for reading, I’ll read anything, as long as it’s well written. 

What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences? 
I read so much of everything, it’s hard for any one influence to be truly dominant. Still, there are five writers whom I’d acknowledge as what you might call literary role models: Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, John D. MacDonald, Dorothy L. Sayers, and P.G. Wodehouse. 

Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet? 
I do meet them, in the pages of their books. Writers really can’t hide, you know; everything they are is right there on the page.


What book was the most fun for you to write? 
 It’s always the one I’m presently working on, because that’s the one I don’t yet know everything about. (g)

Can you tell us about your latest publication? 
Well, the eighth Big OUTLANDER novel is coming right up, later this year. That’s WRITTEN IN MY OWN HEART’S BLOOD, set in 1778 (and in the 1980’s), in Colonial America (and Scotland…maybe a little bit in the Caribbean, I haven’t decided yet), and featuring All Kinds of Things, some of which are guaranteed to make the readership scream and hop up and down like peas on a hot shovel, and others that will make them melt into little puddles of goo. The most important thing is probably that THIS IS NOT THE LAST BOOK. (I’m pretty sure the ninth one is the final one.) 

Do you have a most interesting question or crazy anecdote related to your writing you would like to share?
Fortunately, my books seem to attract fairly benign nuts. I think this is probably because anyone who’s truly crazy doesn’t have a long enough attention span to read one. 

Benign nuts, indeed. I think I qualify! Thanks so much, Diana, for taking the time to share your insights into your writing and thinking process

. . . . . .

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Delighted to announce...Anne Perry!

Anne Perry is an internationally-known and bestselling
writer (since 1970! Thirty years of book publishing. We all could want a career like that). She’s also Guest of Honor at the Historical Novels Society conference coming up next month in St. Petersburg, Florida. Perry’s website says, “None of her books has ever been out of print, and they have received critical acclaim and huge popular success: over 26 million books are in print world-wide.”

She has been writing the well-known Victorian crime/mystery series about detective Thomas Pitt and his aristocratic wife Charlotte since 1979, and in 1990 started a new series set about 35 years earlier, with private detective William Monk and sidekick nurse Hester Latterly. She’s still publishing more new creations focused on WWI as well as her most recent novel, a stand-alone, titled The Sheen on the Silk,

set in the exotic and dangerous world of the Byzantine Empire. She lives in Scotland.

As part of building up buzz for the conference, each day in May a different panelist will be featured on a different blog, a wonderful engineering feat organized by author Vanitha Sankaran. I’ll be featuring four authors on each of the upcoming Fridays in May, and I’m delighted that today’s author is such a behemoth of mystery writing. Vanitha wrote the questions, solicited the answers, and gave each of us bloggers free range to cull what to use, and how to illustrate it. Since Perry has literally dozens of books out—I counted 78 but may be incorrect—I have decided to festoon this post with as many book jackets as I can manage.

Now without further ado, here’s a brief Q&A;

How do you find the people and topics of your books?
In present-day news.*

Do you follow a specific writing and/or research process?
Yes, when I've got the topic, I think of the main character (i.e. Pitt or Monk) and what story will carry that theme. Then, I research what is necessary to make sure that story would work. Then I outline the story chapter by chapter then do the final research for the details.

For you, what is the line between fiction and fact?
Fact is what did happen, fiction is what could happen.

Do you have an anecdote about a reading or fan interaction you'd like to share?
Not a specific anecdote, but the thing that's most important to me is when someone says reading something I have written has helped them through a hard, tough patch.

Is there an era/area that is your favorite to write about? How about to read?
One I'd love to write about is the French revolution.

What are your favorite reads? Favorite movies? Dominating influences?
Favourite reads are present-day American mysteries, just for pleasure. Movies: A Good Woman (Oscar Wilde) with Helen Hunt. Intouchables (a superb French film). I think poetry and GK Chesterton in particular.

Is there a writer, living or deceased, you would like to meet?
GK Chesterton! I think sometimes it is better not to meet your idols for fear of they don't like you.

What book was the most fun for you to write? The Sheen on the Silk, because I loved letting rip with Zoe.

A few comments from me:
1. She’s an outliner! I guess for mystery writers it’s absolutely necessary, but I’m still excited to read this since I’m such an outlining advocate.
2. I noticed that without a hitch she changed the Americanized “favorite” to “favourite!” Good thing the questions didn’t involve any lorries, lifts, chips or flats.
3. How awesome would a French Revolution novel from her be?!

 * I found her answer that she found her book topics in present-day news fascinating, because Perry’s life itself has been splashed across headlines. Born as Juliet Hulme, she and her best friend murdered the friend’s mother when they were teens, in 1954. Kate Winslet plays Hulme in the film Heavenly Creatures. After serving a prison sentence, Hulme changed her name and began writing fiction. Her appearance at the conference falls on the anniversary of the crime, June 22, 59 years later.

Perry will be speaking at the dinner on June 21 as guest of honor, and then at 9:30 a.m. on the 22nd she’ll be a panelist speaking about “Writing the historical fiction mystery” along with my bestie Susan Spann, Annamaria Alfieri (who I’ll be hosting here on the blog May 31), Frederick Ramsay and Judith Rock. I can’t wait for this session!

Many thanks to Anne Perry for participating in the Historical Novels Society blogathon!

. . . . .

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Very illustrious guest bloggers coming: watch this space!

I'm delighted to be hosting four historical novelists over four Fridays in May. We're building up excitement over the upcoming Historical Novels Society conference next month in St. Petersburg, Florida. Giving you a little taste of what discussions and panels could be like at the conference, my four guest bloggers will be answering questions about writing historical fiction, their favorite of their own novels, and more.

Here are some hints as to who my guests will be:

1. Three words: Thomas and Charlotte
2. Jamie in a kilt
3. A young girl who kills herself in a Spanish convent
4. Blogger and novelist focused on 16th-century France

(answers below)

I attended the Historical Novels Society conference in 2011 (every other year it takes place in the U.S., alternating yearly with England). I reveled in the company of all the other people who prefer to read--and in many cases write--books set in the past. It was a chance to geek out with other history nerds!

When I went, I didn't know a soul, but girded my loins to be friendly and meet people. Many of the events can be solitary, like watching panels and readings, but at the mealtimes I enjoyed getting to meet new people and hear which eras are their favorite. I heard someone say at the last conference, "I'm used to introducing myself by saying I write historical fiction; here I have to specify which era!"

So the answers to the hints are:


I am hosting these amazing writers and I couldn't be more excited! Check back here on May 10 when Anne Perry will be my guest. Anne Perry, people! This international best-selling author is guest of honor at the conference.

. . . .